Zombie mania: What is a person? Does it matter?

Mar 20, 2017 | Corey Sleep

What is a person?

Andy Steiger believes this is the most important question of our time. And I can’t help but agree.

Why so zombie obsessed?

What can be tolerated when the humans are not really human anymore?

Can we kill them?

Can we separate the person from the body?

“Zombies have been a thought experiment for us to figure out what a human is, by figuring out what it is not,” Andy noted at P2C PLUS Toronto. This process involves “dehumanization”, which is essentially removing a human’s humanity. It is reducing a person into an object or an animal.

Dystopia & dehumanization

I was profoundly interested in Andy’s talk because only a few months earlier I had been wrestling with the same question. I was asked to speak at an event at the University of Guelph titled “Why So Dystopia?” where students viewed short clips of dystopian movies and answered questions about the major world problem the clip or movie dealt with. As I watched the numerous film clips (none of them about zombies) I realized a common thread uniting them: dehumanization. The very theme Andy was discussing that night at P2C PLUS.

Whether a catastrophic event crippled civilization, a controlling hyper-socialist government entity wreaked havoc, or whatever doom was displayed, each film portrayed a significant change in human relationships.

Citizens became expendable. Fellow men were obstacles to survival instead of equals who could help survival. The underlying question asked: How do we view our fellow humans? And, how then do we treat them?

“How do we view our fellow humans? And, how then do we treat them?” – Corey Sleep

No humanness, no morality

You might argue that something like The Walking Dead is about seeing what kind of gore we can put on screen. And it may well be. But the characters are still clearly wrestling with the deeper questions.

Can we trust other people now that the world has gone mad and lost so much humanity? Or do we just wipe them out lest they kill us? Is there hope to return to a civilization of peace and civility? Is there inherent value in human life, even if that life could bring my own destruction and death? Or the death of those that I love?

The same Bible that teaches us that humanity is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27) and that loving God and our neighbour is our highest ethic (Matt. 22:34-40) also teaches that human life is very precious. Humanity is much more valuable than an object or animal and we should treat each human as such.

Never should we shoot first and ask questions later; never should we treat any human with condescension, regardless of what they have done. Why? Because a human is inherently valuable. Each person is a created being given transcendent value and purpose by the Creator.

Each person, therefore, has inalienable rights.

But if you remove God from the equation, you may find it very difficult to answer the question: What is a person? How could the natural world alone give you a satisfying answer? Quite simply, it could not.

And this is why the question is so important.

“But if you remove God from the equation, you may find it very difficult to answer the question: What is a person? How could the natural world alone give you a satisfying answer? Quite simply, it could not.” – Corey Sleep

Are we consistent within ourselves to both acknowledge human value and dignity and concede that it must come from outside of ourselves? Because if we do not believe in transcendently given value, we must be able to concede that a person is no more than another animal.

They might be our animal, a member of our species that we naturally wish to protect for genetic purposes, but they are still just an animal. If we accept this, and are logically consistent in our belief, we must also concede that in truth, we cannot be “dehumanized” into mere animals or objects. We already are such things.

We can’t then cry foul when one human takes another’s life or objectifies them. We cannot because there is nothing to objectify.

What does humanness have to do with the gospel?

You might not think of the gospel when you hear dehumanization but the ideas are very interconnected. In fact, the gospel story has dehumanization (but also RE-humanization) written all over it.

Photo by Benjamin Ng

Jesus was dehumanized (willingly) when he died and took our sin upon himself. He was reduced and objectified by those who abused and executed him unfairly and without trial. His life was taken from him (or rather, he gave it up; John 10:18).

But then his life was restored by the Spirit of God, his person was validated and re-humanized in his resurrection.

“In our sin condition we are dehumanized selves—we are not fully who we were created to be, and we, because of sin, treat ourselves and others in less-than-human ways.” – Corey Sleep

Dehumanization in us

In our sin condition we are dehumanized selves—we are not fully who we were created to be, and we, because of sin, treat ourselves and others in less-than-human ways. The image of God in us (the core of our humanity) is marred by sin.

But with Jesus’ re-humanization he offers us the opportunity to be restored. He re-humanizes us; we share in his resurrection, and he remakes us when we link our lives to his.

The Holy Spirit then applies that re-humanization to us in our lives as he works, cleansing us from sin, producing spiritual fruit and reforming our broken pieces (Gal. 5:22-23). Those who do not turn to Christ to have themselves changed are perishing, losing what’s left of their humanity as they decay and sin’s effects take place (Rom. 8:5-6; cf. 8:9-11).

Romans 6:1-4 illustrates my point well, I think:

“How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

New life–re-humanization. Dehumanization undone by the Son of Man. The gospel message is broken humanity restored to fullness of humanity through the death and resurrection of the most human man who ever lived.

“New life–re-humanization. Dehumanization undone by the Son of Man. The gospel message is broken humanity restored to fullness of humanity through the death and resurrection of the most human man who ever lived.” – Corey Sleep

A transcendent source for a moral foundation

I want you to walk away from this post understanding that you are inherently valuable as a human.

So are your neighbours and your enemies. So is everyone. Only if we understand this can we stand firm on practical moral issues. And we only have value as people, we only have true humanity, if indeed we have been given this value from a transcendent and moral source.

You need to understand that in order to argue for moral principles, one must acknowledge this transcendently given value and purpose. You cannot cry any foul if you do not first recognize moral authority. You cannot speak about evil if you do not first assume that there is “good”.

So next time you watch a zombie movie with your friends, or just feel like tackling a very interesting issue, try bringing up this very question. What is a person?

See what they think. Ask wondering questions, trying to understand where your friend is coming from. And if it makes sense to, argue for your own view of humanity: created beings with intrinsic importance and value, inalienable rights, given to them by a perfect and purposeful Creator. See what they think about the need for such an answer if indeed we are to have true, objective morality.

“[H]umanity: created beings with intrinsic importance and value, inalienable rights, given to them by a perfect and purposeful Creator.” – Corey Sleep

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About the Author

Corey Sleep

Corey graduated from McMaster University in Kinesiology but in the end couldn’t resist a call to ministry. He now works with Power to Change – Students dividing his time between campus ministry and creating blog and other content. You can check out his personal blog at rexcommentary.wordpress.com.

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